About 30 protesters gathered Thursday morning at the Duke Energy building in Charlottes uptown, voicing opposition to the companys policies during its shareholders meeting.
The group, mostly Greenpeace members but also with a few Occupy Charlotte participants, chanted slogans opposing Duke Energy and complained about a new Charlotte city ordinance that puts limits on protests and the items that protesters can bring into pre-set Extraordinary Zones.
Meanwhile, another group of protesters said it had blocked a train carrying coal from reaching Dukes coal-powered plant in Catawba County. Four protesters chained themselves to the tracks, organizers of the effort said.
And inside the meeting, at least one of the shareholders criticized Duke Energy CEO James Rogers and the company for its use of coal to power electricity-producing plants.
In the protest at the Duke shareholders meeting, no arrests had been made as of 11:30 a.m. The protesters chanted slogans, carried banners, and made speeches critical of Duke Energy policies, but a group of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers watched nearby and did not interfere.
CMPD officers had cordoned off a one-block area around the Duke Energy building early Thursday morning, setting up the Extraordinary Event zone.
The first protesters arrived about 9 a.m. -- a woman with two young girls, about age 6 or 7. The girls held signs, one of which read, More renewable energy. They said they had made the signs with crayons and were being permitted to stay out of school for an hour Thursday morning so they could lobby for Duke Energy to use more renewable energy.
More protesters arrived about 9:30 a.m., 90 minutes before the start of the shareholders meeting. Members of the group chanted Dirty coal has got to go and other slogans. One member of the group began speaking about 10:15 a.m., complaining about Duke Energys use of coal at its power plants and about Charlottes Extraordinary Events ordinance.
It is the first of several actions planned over the next few weeks, including an event at next Wednesdays Bank of America shareholders meeting that could draw hundreds of protesters.
The citys new Extraordinary Events ordinance permits authorities to limit protest activities and items that can be carried into a pre-announced zone. Earlier this week, City Manager Curt Walton announced that the zone around the Duke Energy building will be inside a quadrangle formed by South Tryon Street, Stonewall Street, Graham Street, and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The banner that hung briefly Wednesday from Bank of Coal stadium was the first of upcoming protests that, four months before the Democratic National Convention, will test Charlottes ability to police waves of demonstrators.
Aimed at massive targets the nations third-largest utility, the second-biggest consumer bank and the Obama administration the protests will serve as a convention tuneup for police and for activists eager to probe the limits of a new city ordinance regulating such events.
Protesters from across the country have stepped up their activities in the city since the Democratic convention was announced early last year, police Chief Rodney Monroe has told the Observer.
Police refine tactics, skills
Officers are already using such events, and others like the Fourth of July celebration uptown, to refine tactics for dealing with protesters and large crowds.
The 70-foot banner members of the Rainforest Action Network said they hung on Bank of America Stadium lasted less than 30 minutes Wednesday morning before Charlotte-Mecklenburg police pulled it down.
Police arrested five people: Robert Diesu, 24, of Washington, D.C.; Aleythea Dolstad-Lown, 26, of Vashon, Wash.; Benjamin Kessler, 28, of Round Rock, Texas; Samuel Maron, 26, of Atlanta; and Stephanie Taylor, 29, of Portland, Ore. Each is charged with misdemeanor breaking and entering.
As we hone our skills, the consistency with which we respond, the way we communicate internally, it generally gets better as we go, said police Major Jeff Estes, who is helping with convention planning. A byproduct of that is speed. We honed our abilities to respond quickly to the ... trespassing at the stadium.
Rainforest, the social-justice group Action NC, the N.C. Coalition Against Corporate Power and Greenpeace say they will stage massive protests against Duke and the bank at their shareholder meetings. An alliance of grass-roots groups called UNITY claims it will send 1,000 activists to Bank of Americas meeting.
Wells Fargo shareholders needed police to enter last weeks annual meeting in San Francisco as about 500 people protested the banks lending practices and foreclosures.
Very peaceful protests
The groups active in Charlotte say they will steer clear of violence. Our events are going to be very peaceful, said Roxana Bendezu, field organizer for the N.C. Coalition Against Corporate Power. We just want a real good visual of people raising their voices.
The groups held a news conference Wednesday to attack Charlottes new ordinance that expands police powers to stop and search people in or near protests.
The city manager has designated the Duke and Bank of America meetings extraordinary events, like the Food Lion Speed Street festival in May and July 4. That triggers a ban of potential weapons such as crowbars and even backpacks if police believe they carry weapons or noxious substances.
Julie Morgan of Action NC described limitations in the ordinance as absurd.
Invoking this draconian law is another example of our democracy being sold to the highest bidder, she said. The city of Charlotte is protecting Bank of Americas bottom line. The Constitution and everyday people be damned.
Duke, BofA targeted for coal
Duke has come under fire for its reliance on coal, a major source of air pollution, and for two rate hikes since 2009. Conservative demonstrators picketed last years shareholder meeting to protest CEO Jim Rogers role in raising money for the Democratic convention.
Duke says its critics fail to acknowledge the companys efforts to retire its oldest, dirtiest coal-fired power plants and invest in cleaner technologies. Rogers says the DNC is good for the city as a whole, not just Democrats.
The Rainforest group says Bank of America has provided $6.7 billion in funding for the coal industry, citing data from Bloomberg financial news. The network is also unhappy with what it claims is a cozy relationship between the Obama administration and the banking industry.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver his keynote speech during the Democratic National Convention at the stadium part of the reason the protest group said it chose that site to hang the banner. In November, eight Rainforest protesters were arrested after scaling flagpoles in front of the banks corporate headquarters and dropping a banner reading Not with our money, and barricading an entrance to the building.
Bank of America has not commented on the coal activists protests. The bank has said that it finances many different types of energy projects, including considerable investments in renewable energy.
A dark precedent
Greenpeace organizer Monica Embrey called the citys new ordinance a dark precedent for corporate greed and suppression of civil liberties.
The group expects to be active at the Democratic convention in September, she said, and has had a lot of correspondence over the last few months with police.
Occupy Charlotte activist Scottie Wingfield said the groups long relationship with individual Charlotte police officers has been cordial.
That hasnt stopped this kind of tactic of just little things to make things more difficult for us, she said, just little ways to assert their power and show who has the upper hand.
Occupy members have been cited with jaywalking, she said, when other jaywalkers werent. The group says its members have been told not to wear scarves over their faces during marches.
Wingfield expects police to show restraint in enforcing the new extraordinary events ordinance until the convention. We cant show our cards, she said.
Staff writers Bruce Henderson and Meghan Cooke contributed.